A Student Response to
ACADEMIC DISHONESTY: A SURVEY OF POLICIES AND
PROCEDURES AT ONTARIO UNIVERSITIES
Submitted by the Alma Mater Society of Queen's University to
the Council of Ontario Universities, March 2008
commission if jSince
Canada's First Student Government
PART ONE - Definitions of Plagiarism in Policies Governing Student
Recommendations of the COU Report:
The members of Ontario Council of Academic Vice Presidents (OCAV) should be encouraged to examine the
question of consistency of definition with respect to the question of "knowing" or deliberate commission of an
offence. Does the inconsistency noted in this paper create a problem of equity across the province, one which, for
example, might disadvantage a student seeking to transfer from one institution to another or to transfer credits
from one institution to another? If so, are there actions which could be taken over time to correct such inequity?
In reviewing their policies on academic dishonesty, institutions should be encouraged to give explicit consideration
to including Internet sources of all types within their definitions.
Universities should consider highlighting user-friendly guides to responsible academic behaviour within their
formal policies, in order to fulfill the primary goal of student education and minimize the numbing effects of legally
precise policy language.
On the first recommendation, the Alma Mater Society of Queen's University (AMS) agrees that current variations
in the necessity to prove intent could create "a problem of equity across the province" (page 3) but we are
concerned that distancing ourselves too much from the idea of intent could, in itself, foster even greater inequity,
as intent plays an important role in the sanctioning process. Furthermore, some departures from academic
integrity must, by definition, involve a determination of intent. For instance, intent must be established before
allegations of collusion on an assignment can be proven. The fact that two assignments seem identical is not
enough to convict a student, unless intent to share information can be established. We recommend a cautious
exploration of the pros and cons of greater consistency. Also, the AMS is in full support of the increased use of
user-friendly guides to assist students in understanding academic integrity issues.
All Ontario universities should demonstrate a focus on educating students about academic integrity. This should
include, but not be limited to, a widely-publicized, easily-understandable guide to responsible academic
Proactive education on issues of academic integrity is an important part of building a positive educational
environment. More than that, part of a university's fundamental purpose is to promote the ideals of academic
integrity. Because legal policy language can often be difficult for students to understand, the AMS agrees with the
recommendation that each institution should create and highlight user-friendly guides to responsible academic
behavior. As the report states, "Universities must certainly play an active role in educating students about the
nature and importance of academic honesty and in ensuring that the student's academic environment is itself
conducive to putting these ideals into practice" (page 4).
Part 3 of the report further stresses a more proactive approach from Ontario universities. To ensure that students
fully grasp what is expected of them, Ontario universities should each devise a comprehensive education plan,
emphasizing communication with first.year students. Orientation activities are a great way to begin this important
discussion, but educational initiatives should not end there. Remedial programs should also be created for all
students who have committed a breach of academic integrity. This idea will be further discussed in our response to
It would be worthwhile for the Ontario Council of Academic Vice Presidents (OCAV) to examine the possibility of
creating a consistent position on the role of intent in academic integrity policies.
Given that various approaches to the issue of intent can create very different outcomes in a case, the possibility
does exist that the same case could have different outcomes depending on the individual university's policy. We
agree that OCAV should look into a consistent application of the idea of intent as long as there is a period of
stakeholder consultation before a final direction is set. Agreeing on the importance of consistency is one thing. The
difficulty will come in building a consensus on the role of intent.
If Ontario universities are to claim that proof of intent is not necessary to convict a student, they should first be
required to demonstrate a strong and effective academic integrity awareness program.
As stated earlier, we are concerned that Ontario universities are not stressing awareness of what constitutes
responsible academic behaviour. If our institutions wish to claim that students who stand accused of a departure
from academic integrity "ought reasonably to have known" (page 2) what constitutes proper behaviour, then the
onus is on the university to demonstrate a comprehensive academic integrity awareness program. If the COU does
adopt a province-wide position on the issue of intent, and if that position is that students are expected to know
the rules without question, we must insist that a set of awareness criteria be developed to ensure that all
universities are fulfilling their educational responsibilities.
Removing the consideration of intent from the sanctioning process would create an unfair system. At the very
least, intent must be considered during this phase of the process.
There is certainly a case for eliminating intent from any initial finding since it is difficult to prove and often creates
an easy out for the accused. That said, intent to mislead is very different from an honest mistake and this
distinction must, at the very least, play an important role in all sanctioning decisions. We ask that OCAV take this
into consideration when examining the role of intent in academic integrity policy. If any Ontario universities do not
currently make this distinction, we ask that OCAV join us in recommending that the university include
consideration of intent in all sanctioning decisions.
Academic integrity policy should apply equally to all members of the academic community
Students, professors, and all academic members of a university community should be held to the same standard of
integrity. Since departures from academic integrity affect our entire community, we all must bear equal
responsibility for our actions. At Queen's University this is not the case.
Section 17.3.4 of the collective bargaining agreement between Queen's University and the Queen's University
Faculty Association states: "The University shall have the onus of establishing fraud or misconduct in academic
research and scholarly activity. Any finding of fraud or misconduct in academic research and scholarly activity shall
require clear, cogent and convincing proof of dishonest intent or reckless disregard for the likelihood to mislead."
This section requires the University to prove dishonest intent when prosecuting a professor for a departure from
The Queen's policy on student academic integrity, however, does not require convincing proof of dishonest intent
in order to convict a student and this position seems to be common among many Ontario universities. The fact
that a lesser burden of proof is required to convict a student than a professor is deeply troubling. It is absolutely
unfair to hold our students to this higher standard.
When discussing the various academic integrity policies across Ontario, the COU report states that "In at least one
instance, the policy is broadened to cover all academic members of the institution -students at all levels, faculty
and researchers" (page 1). The AMS believes all Ontario universities should adopt this approach. If we continue to
talk about academic integrity as critical to our educational communities, we must hold all members of those
communities to the same standard. We urge the COU to look into discrepancies like the one at Queen's and to
make recommendations to rectify the situation.
PART TWO - Penalties for Academic Dishonesty: Cheating and Plagiarism
Recommendations of the COU Report
Universities need to develop a much stronger consensus regarding the appropriate penalties for academic
dishonesty. Current differences in how instances of plagiarism and cheating are penalized at various universities
appear highly uneven. In order to make clear the seriousness of even minor violations of academic honesty in a
manner consistent with the importance all universities must attach to academic honesty, universities should adopt
a policy that either requires or strongly recommends that the minimum penalty for instances of cheating and
plagiarism is a grade of "0" on the work in question.
For a second violation of academic dishonesty, the required or recommended minimum penalty ought to be a
period of disciplinary suspension of at least one term.
The AMS strongly disagrees with any move toward mandatory minimum sentencing. Sanctioning policy must have
a great deal of flexibility so that each case is dealt with in a fair manner. Minimum sentences would also have
detrimental effects on the level of reporting, as professors would choose to deal with cases on their own rather
than be forced into assigning a specific penalty. The consistency argument is applicable to issues of intent, as seen
in Part 1, and issues of transcript notation, as seen in Part 4. Here, however, increasing consistency would come at
too high a price.
Academic integrity policy should be flexible enough to adapt to the individual circumstances of each case.
Each case of a departure from academic integrity is different. At times, the usual sanction must be adjusted to fit
the subtleties of the case. This flexibility is critical to the system because it allows for restorative rather than
punitive justice. On page 4 of the report, the authors note that "Implementing positive measures that help
promote a culture and practice of academic honesty is more effective in promoting widespread adherence to the
policy than the threat of serious penalties." Yet the recommendation to introduce a minimum penalty of zero on
the work in question would introduce the threat of serious penalties and would seem to contradict the authors'
It is important to note that the vast majority of academic integrity policies incorporate an appeals process to
ensure a fair sanction is given for each case. Replacing a range of sanctions with one minimum sanction is
unnecessarily restrictive and would remove much of the importance of a fair appeals process. By removing the
need to prove intent, and by imposing a minimum penalty for the first offence a student who has unknowingly
committed even an infinitesimal act of plagiarism would be harshly sanctioned with a zero on the work in question.
If the work constitutes a large percentage of the student's mark in the course, we could see a student receive a
failing grade in the course simply because the system is too rigid.
Increasing the number of reported cases should be a top priority of our universities. Mandatory minimum
sentences would work against this goal.
At Queen's, and at other Ontario universities, many professors will discover a departure from academic integrity
but will choose to deal with it on their own, rather than report it to the administration. It is very difficult to
estimate how often this occurs, but there is evidence to suggest that underreporting is a severe problem on many
campuses. The levels themselves depend greatly on the different policies and different institutional cultures across
Ontario. When the professor chooses to deal with a case in private, it presents two main problems: the student's
rights are not guaranteed and the administration has no way of identifying the prevalence of such cases across the
Introducing mandatory sentencing would further restrict flexibility to a system that many already perceive to be
too cumbersome. A professor who does not agree with the minimum sentence is likely not to report the incident
at all. Given the already low levels of reporting, and the need to increase these levels in the future, further
restrictions on the system are entirely counterproductive.
Minimum sentencing could allow guilty students to be acquitted because the punishment is seen as overly
Assuming a case is reported to the administration, the introduction of minimum penalties could reduce the
number of convictions. If the ruling body believes the minimum sentence is overly harsh, there is the possibility
that the student will be acquitted even though he or she has departed from the tenets academic integrity. This
phenomenon has been discussed at length in legal circles and has often been used as an argument against capital
In order to increase consistency without introducing minimum penalties, the COU could release Ontario-wide
guidelines to assist universities in applying consistent penalties. The guidelines would include a list of
considerations to be used when assigning a sanction as well as a list of accepted penalties.
Consistency is a laudable goal and the AMS would support efforts to increase consistency, as long as those efforts
do not further harm the system. We propose that the COU reject the recommendation to impose minimum
sentences and instead create a set of sanctioning guidelines to increase consistency across the province. The
guidelines would include a list of acceptable sanctions and a list of considerations to be examined when selecting
an appropriate sanction. It is our opinion that this compromise would go a long way to increasing consistency
while also avoiding the unwelcome consequences of minimum sentencing.
Part Three - Being Proactive
Recommendations of the COU Report
Universities should work closely with the high schools and make clear what level of understanding regarding
academic honesty they would like to see high school students possess before they start university.
Universities should have remedial programs in place for students who have been identified as being at risk of
violating some of the basic tenets of academic honesty
The AMS is in full support of working with high schools to increase awareness of academic integrity issues. In
addition, our universities must be more pro active in educating their own students on academic integrity issues.
This idea was discussed earlier, in our response to Part 1, on the topic of user-friendly guides to academic integrity.
The AMS is also in favour of more remedial programs, but we are concerned with the idea of compelling students
to complete these courses when they are merely "skating on the edge" (page 9).
Remedial programs should be available at all Ontario universities and should be compulsory for students who
have committed a departure from academic integrity.
With a growing number of universities removing the idea of intent from their academic integrity policy, many
students are found guilty for committing honest mistakes. To ensure that no student mistakenly commits a second
offence, all convicted students should be mandated to complete a remedial course. It is up to each university to
design and fund such a course.
Requiring a student to take a remedial course even though a departure from academic integrity has not been
established is an unfair sanction on a student who has done nothing wrong.
If a professor considers his or her student at risk of committing a departure from academic integrity, the professor
should take action to rectify the situation before it escalates. Meeting with the student and discussing the tenets
of academic integrity is probably the best way to handle the situation. A recommendation that the student attend
a university-organized remedial session would also be appropriate; however we do not believe that any student
should be compelled to complete such a program if he or she has not committed a departure from academic
integrity. The report states that "we must be especially careful not to treat the remedial program as a sanction. It
is not to be assigned so that a student...can receive a penalty without being charged. The sole justification for the
tutorial must be remedial" (page 10). If we are indeed discussing a compulsory remedial session, it cannot be
considered anything but a sanction. We would be assigning a penalty to a student who has not been charged;
calling it remedial won't change that.
Part Four - Transcript Notation and Public Reporting Requirements
Recommendations of the COU Report
On the recommendation of OCAV, Ontario Universities Registrars' Association (OURA) should be asked to conduct
a thorough review of the transcript notation of infractions under policies of academic dishonesty at Ontario
universities to determine whether any serious inconsistencies exist and if they do, whether they might be
addressed on a province-wide basis.
If COU believes that some system-wide coherence of statistical reporting of cases of academic dishonesty would be
useful, it should refer the issue to OCAV for detailed study.
Wide variations on transcript notation policy could result in unfair treatment of students. The AMS supports the
proposal to harmonize this policy across Ontario.
It would be worthwhile for the Ontario Universities Registrars' Association (OURA) to conduct a review of
transcript notation policy. We ask that students be consulted before any proposed changes are implemented
across the board.
The authors are correct in stating that "inconsistency of practice among Ontario institutions could give rise to
violations of natural justice" (page 10). For this reason, we would support a review of transcript notation policy as
long as there is a period of stakeholder consultation before a final direction is set. Should such a review take place,
we urge the OURA to remember that the general philosophy on transcript notation "is founded on compassion for
the individual student" (page 11).
While comparing data on academic integrity cases could prove useful, it could also have a number of negative
consequences. There are many factors that affect the statistics of individual universities; therefore direct
comparison is not advised. The COU should be sure it is making these comparisons for the right reasons.
Compiling province-wide data on these cases seems useful at first glance. That said, different policies and different
institutional cultures produce very different levels of reporting from one university to the next, as discussed in Part
2. We believe this large variation in reporting would render most comparisons meaningless. Queen's University has
a great deal of difficulty estimating levels of academic dishonesty within its own community. If we cannot come up
with reasonable estimates, comparing our data to that of other schools would not tell us much of anything.
We are concerned that the rationale for these comparisons is driven by external pressure to show that our
universities are adequately punishing cheaters. Our universities should not make conclusions based on
questionable statistical data simply to improve public relations. Comparing universities could create unnecessary
pressure on those with high conviction levels and low conviction levels. The former could be criticized for not doing
enough to curb dishonesty, with the latter might feel pressure to increase convictions so as not to appear too
Given the potentially negative consequences associated with this project, and that there exist serious flaws in the
data, we recommend that OCAV not pursue the collection and comparison of statistical data. If OCAV does choose
to go ahead with this project, we ask that it consider whether it is making this decision for the right reasons.
Part Five - Collaborative Learning and the Internet: Adjusting to Diverse
Recommendations of the COU Report
Universities should examine the emerging attitudes towards information gathering and information sharing in their
student populations and address those attitudes directly in setting forth their expectations for student learning
strategies and standards of scholarship; faculty should be particularly mindful of the potential effect of their own
example when preparing dassroom presentations and materials for their students.
OCAV should consider the issues of differing cultural traditions, collaborative learning strategies and the effect of
Internet information on student assumptions and through the Vice-Presidents Academic, should offer advice to
Ontario universities on ways to address these issues in relevant policy statements and informational programs.
The AMS agrees with the recommendations in this section. We would like to see more investigation into the
current attitude of students, especially on the use of Internet information, so that our universities can better adapt
to the nfIuences of technology on the academic community. As students ourselves, we agree that there is a need
for more education in this area.